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Devin Booker doesn’t take another shot at winning an NBA championship lightly.

In his first four years at Phoenix, among players who played at least 200 games between 2015-16 and 2018-19, no one in the NBA had more losses than Booker. He appeared in 272 games during those years and the Suns lost 197.

“A lot of things have changed since then” Booker said. “We have seen him grow. We have seen it develop. Of course, I don’t forget those days. All of those moments now make it even better, make it now even more important.

It was the worst team in the NBA at the time. They were the best team in the NBA in this just-concluded regular season. And now comes the big test – the playoffs, and the Suns enter as heavy favorites to become the team that will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy from commissioner Adam Silver in June.

The first four games on the official playoff slate — playoff games don’t count, officially — are Saturday, the other four Game 1s are Sunday. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoffs, after their season became a resounding failure and cost coach Frank Vogel his job less than two years after winning an NBA title. Chicago, Golden State, Minnesota and Toronto are back in the playoffs after not getting there a year ago.

And the longest active streak of playoff appearances belongs to the Boston Celtics, in the playoffs now for an eighth straight year. Celtics get first-round showdown; former Boston guard Kyrie Irving and two-time champion Kevin Durant will lead the Brooklyn Nets in an Eastern Conference first-round series against the Celtics.

“Excited about the opportunity,” said Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.

Everyone at this time of year should feel the same way.

Phoenix went 64-18 this season, eight games better than anyone else in the NBA; Memphis, seeded No. 2 in the Western Conference, was 56-26. Only four other teams in the past 49 seasons have finished the regular season with at least eight more wins than the second-best club, and those four teams — most recently the 2000 Lakers — have won the NBA title.

“People don’t understand what it really takes to win a championship” said Suns center JaVale McGee, a three-time NBA champion and member of the team that won Olympic gold for USA Basketball at the Tokyo Games last summer. “They think, for example, you put all the best players together and that’s it. It’s not. There is definitely a percentage of luck, and by luck I mean staying healthy.

There are a few people in the league who understand what it takes to win a championship. Many of them reside in Milwaukee. FanDuel Sportsbook bettors are predicting an NBA Finals rematch, with Phoenix favored to win this year’s title and Milwaukee the second pick, ahead of Miami, Golden State, Boston and Brooklyn.

The Bucks are the defending NBA champions. back and ready for more.

Winning a title last year does not affect the desire to win one this year, Antetokounmpo said.

“I want to be the best I can be” says Antetokounmpo. “I want to get the most out of the game. I want to play good basketball. I want to help my team win games. That is just about everything. The pressure is still the same. I don’t think about winning a championship or we won a championship. It’s from the past. It’s finish.

The Bucks are the No. 3 seed in the East this year, behind No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Boston. Miami is bidding for a second trip to the NBA Finals in the past three seasons, after the then fifth-seeded Heat won the title streak in the restart bubble at Walt Disney World in 2020.

The regular season is one thing, Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler said. But the playoffs are what matters.

“It’s been on our minds all year,” Butler said. “That’s why we play the game. I think we’ve been a great team all year. But now we’re talking.

The Heat and Suns find out their first-round opponents after Friday night’s conclusion of the play-in tournament. It will be a tight turnaround for the top seeds, who will both play Game 1 on Sunday.

The Dallas-Utah, Minnesota-Memphis, Toronto-Philadelphia and Golden State-Denver series all begin Saturday. Miami and Phoenix start their respective series on Sunday, along with Brooklyn-Boston and Chicago-Milwaukee.

The last team to finish the regular season with the best record and win the NBA title was Golden State in 2017. Houston in 2018, Milwaukee in 2019 and 2020, and Utah last season couldn’t. The Suns believe that they will be the ones to reverse this trend.

“We are the best team in the world and we have fun doing it” McGee said. “I know from the outside looking inside, they hate it. But we must continue. We keep our heads down. We don’t care about anyone but ourselves.

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